“Unsolicited Proposals” and “Pre-selected Organizations” are terms found when doing Nonprofit grant research. While they seem like barriers to funding, it’s all in building a relationship.
Nonprofits always ask about accessing private foundations operating on a “by invitation only” funding model. It is common for private/family foundations to pre-select organizations they are interested in supporting.
That “pre-selected” model leaves many organizations wondering if they will ever get invited for a conversation. “Unsolicted Proposals” and “pre-selected” organizations are not the absolute barriers you might think. Lets look at some tips and best practices when approaching these types of foundations.
5 Strategies to get your foot in the door:
1. Research the foundation and pay special attention to key information in their 990-PF:
- Who have they supported in the past (and at what level)?
- Do their geographic funding priorities match your service/impact area?
- Are the foundation’s areas of interest aligned with the service you provide?
- Do their giving levels match your current needs?
- Have they supported organizations/projects that work on the same issues as your nonprofit? If so, how do you compare?
- Is the contact information of the Foundation’s leader listed on the 990-PF? (it should be located in the upper right corner of the first page, or check out section XV, Part II)
- Who serves on the foundation’s board of directors? Does your organization have a connection to the board?
2. Print out names of board members and past/current recipients. Then, ask your board of directors or key supporters if they have a personal relationship with anyone on the foundation’s list.
3. If a board member or community contact has a relationship with a foundation’s board, ask for an introduction.
4. Attend events that are hosted by the foundation. This includes awards/recognitions, community awareness, philanthropy events, and fundraisers.
5. Be strategic and make a connection! Send an introductory letter or email. Better still, set up a phone call with the foundation’s program officer or board chair. Include the following:
- Acknowledgment that you have researched their funding priorities/guidelines.
- Specific reason why you believe your organization might be a potential fit for their current priorities.
- A brief background on your organization (mission, services, impact data).
- Ask how your organization can become eligible for consideration in funding cycles.
Pro Tip #1:
You research a Foundation’s 990-PFs. It suggests they only fund pre-selected charitable organizations. This is usually documented in Section XV, Part II. Compare the list of organizations they have funded for the past 3-5 years. That list is found at the end of most 990-PFs. If they funded the same group of nonprofits for that time period, it is unlikely that you are going to get a foot in the door. This is an example where they truly only give to pre-selected organizations.
On the flip side, there may be a variety of different organizations being funded each year. Even though they mention “pre-selected organizations”, good 990-PF research may prove otherwise. At this point, contact the ‘gatekeeper’ or Program Officer and start building a relationship. This is how you become one of those pre-selected organizations.
Pro Tip #2:
There is a difference between only funding pre-selected charitable organizations and not accepting unsolicited proposals. Unsolicited proposals usually involve an online eligibility process. If approved, you can submit a proposal to a foundation. Think of processes like the Walmart Community Giving Grants. Anyone can apply if they pass the eligibility requirements.
Foundations that “don’t accepted unsolicited proposals” usually mean they don’t have an online application process. Therefore, you need to contact the foundation’s program officer or gatekeeper. Building that relationship is how you gain access and permission to apply for a grant.
When you reach out, be sure to thank the foundation for their support of organizations in the community. Likewise, share how your organization would like to partner with them to accomplish shared goals.
If letters and phone calls go unanswered, don’t immediately get your feelings hurt or throw in the towel. Consider a brief visit to the foundation’s headquarters to request eligibility guidelines and begin the relationship-building process.
Keep in mind that many private/family foundations do not have an official headquarters. In some cases they may only meet once or twice per year, so be patient. Put yourself in their shoes. We only invite people we know to our most important social functions. So we shouldn’t be surprised or offended when a private foundation only funds organizations they personally know. At the end of the day, you are building a relationship with a foundation to become an organization they personally know.
Like everything else in the world of nonprofit development, relationships are the key! If your persistence with an “invitation only” donor doesn’t pay off, move on and explore other donors. There are plenty of foundations who would welcome your interest and requests for support.